- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is locked in a standoff with Prince George’s County Democrats over appointing a House of Delegates nominee who has a dark past and is already suing to keep control of the seat.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, renewed his call Wednesday for the county’s Democratic Central Committee to rescind its appointment of Greg Hall as the replacement for former Delegate Tiffany Alston.

“The governor prefers that they withdraw his name. That position remains the same,” O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said Wednesday. “He believes that there are plenty of other people in Prince George’s County that he would be happy to appoint.”

The governor’s objections appear to be about legal issues in Mr. Hall’s past, but he lacks the power to overrule the county’s decision. Maryland is one of 17 states that appoints replacements for vacant legislative seats, but does not give the governor any say. Maryland law requires the governor to accept and finalize the county’s appointment, and Mr. O'Malley must do so by Monday unless the committee rescinds its choice.

Maryland also does not hold special elections to fill General Assembly seats vacated during a term, leaving local party officials to make decisions that can lead to behind-the-scenes power plays.

“This situation speaks to the potential problems of not having a special election,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “To the maximum extent possible, I think it’s wise for these decisions to be left up to voters.”

The county central committee voted 12-10 this month to appoint Mr. Hall, a close vote for reasons including his past.

Mr. Hall, now 42, faced murder charges in 1992 after he took part in a shootout that killed a 13-year-old boy who was caught in the crossfire.

The charges were dropped after investigators found that another man fired the first shot and the bullet that killed the boy. Mr. Hall was convicted on a misdemeanor gun charge.

Since then, Mr. Hall has had other brushes with the law, including theft charges in 1998 and 2004. He said those charges were related to buying cars with invalid license tags he did not know about. Both charges were dropped.

Mr. Hall was charged this year with driving on a suspended license, but that charge was also dropped. He also recently told The Washington Post that he owes at least $9,000 in back taxes.

While Maryland law leaves Mr. Hall’s appointment in the hands of party officials, 25 states including Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania hold special elections to fill mid-term vacancies in their state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Five states leave the decision up to the departing lawmaker’s statewide political party, while seven leave it to a county board of commissioners and two put it in the hands of part or all of the state legislature.

The remaining 11 states, including Maryland, involve the governor in carrying out the decision, but just eight allow the governor to select the actual appointee.

Mr. Hall would replace Ms. Alston, who was removed after pleading guilty last month to misusing campaign funds.

Numerous county officials argue that Mr. Hall is a worthy replacement with strong community ties, and that he has worked to make amends for his actions.

Ms. Guillory would not say whether the governor’s objections are because of Mr. Hall’s legal problems, but she made it clear that he wants another candidate.

Mr. Hall filed suit in Prince George’s Circuit Court requesting a restraining order to keep the central committee from withdrawing his appointment. The committee voted Tuesday not to act on the issue until after further proceedings in the case.

Ms. Guillory said the governor is also waiting to see how the case develops. He is also watching to see whether Ms. Alston files a lawsuit in an attempt to reclaim her seat.

J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for Ms. Alston, declined to comment on the matter Wednesday.

Mr. Farnsworth said the ongoing disputes could be a lose-lose situation for Mr. O'Malley and that he would be best served to leave them in the hands of lawyers.

However, he said the governor’s lack of official input is likely to shield him from any harm to his long-term reputation or his ability to work with Prince George’s Democrats.

“It’s an unpleasant moment for the governor, but he seems likely to walk away with minimal damage,” Mr. Farnsworth said. “He’s not the one with the legal troubles.”